Snapshots: Day 42

Snapshots: Day 42

The Snapshot: “I am sending you…” (Ex 3:10) It sounded good when God had said He saw, He had heard, and He had come down to rescue His people. Yes, it had been good up to the point He added, ‘I am sending you’. Our natural cry (and it took Moses nearly two chapters of arguing to make this point) is, “I’m not up to this!” Of course we’re not, that’s why He said, “I will be with you.” (v.12) So often as Christians we pray for God’s help to change the circumstances when all the while He wants us to pray for wisdom (see Jas 1:5) so that we can play our part in His plans to change those circumstances. For some crazy reason – I think it’s to do with love – He wants us imperfect people to join in His perfect plans, to be part in changing this world.   Amazing! Incredible!

Further Consideration: As little children we like hearing fairy tales of handsome princes who come to the aid of distressed damsels. As grown up Christians we like praying for our family or neighbours to come to the Lord – because we know that is what the Lord would want us to do. But then comes the shock: I will speak to your family – through you. I will be a witness to your neighbours – through you.

We ask the Lord to change us and hope He will give us a tablet that tastes nice that will change us or wave a magic wand over our circumstances to change them, but then comes the shock when He says, “I want you to change them.”

Just recently I presented our prayer workshop group with a question that the Lord put before me: In this Fallen World where the circumstances often seem bad, does God want to change me through the circumstances or to change the circumstances through me? The answer came loud and clear: BOTH!

We would much rather sit on the sidelines and watch while God beats up the enemy, while Jesus heals the sick and delivers the demon possessed, or the Holy Spirit sweeps in with revival power, but instead He has given us the most incredible privilege – He has called us and made us “the body of Christ” (1 Cor 12:27) and so for most of the time (and yes sometimes He does move sovereignly without using us), Jesus who is the head of the body (Eph 4:15) seeks to guide us and direct us to do the works he started doing (see Lk 4:18,19,  Mt 11:5, Jn 14:12)

Now when Jesus says, “I am with you,” he is reminding us that he indwells us by his own Holy Spirit and so He will be the guide, the director who shows us what to do and how to do it, and He will be the power that enables the changes to come. No longer on the side lines but utterly involved; that is His calling.

16. Multiple Witness

Meditations in Hebrews 2: 16.  Multiple Witness

Heb 2:3,4   This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

We did briefly mention something of these verses in the previous meditation but there we were focusing on the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, noting how it was good news that came with both words and power but, as we said, the emphasis was on the message itself. Now we want to focus on how the message came and open up even more what we have previously seen. There are, as the heading above suggests, multiple witnesses to the truths we have been recently considering about the coming of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God.

The first of these witnesses was Jesus himself: This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord.  The apostle John picked up on this when he reflected on Jesus ministry: Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (Jn 5:17,18)  Jesus brought this very oblique testimony and yet the Jews clearly recognized what he was saying – I am God.  When they objected, Jesus spoke of another witness: “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid. You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth.” (Jn 5:31-33)

Yes, the Law required two witnesses for a testimony to be valid, so Jesus pointed out that John had testified to Him. But Jesus wasn’t satisfied with that: “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me.” (Jn 5:36,37) i.e. the very things Jesus was doing testified to who he was. Consider the lists of what we saw Jesus doing in the previous meditation and you realise this is no mere man. In that sense the Father testified to Jesus, empowering him, but the Father had also testified to His Son at his baptism. (see Lk 3:22) That same voice testified to him on the Mount of Transfiguration (see Lk 9:35) and a third time on Psalm Sunday (Jn 12:28)

But then the second witness were the disciples: “confirmed to us by those who heard him.” The Gospel writers, first of all, collected the testimonies of those who had been with Jesus.  Luke, for example, wrote, “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” (Lk 1:1,2) John would eventually write at the end of his Gospel, “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down,” (Jn 21:24) and who write in his first letter, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard.” (1 Jn 1:1-3) Yes, this is language of witnesses.

But then there was the third witness: “God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (v.4) We have already briefly referred to the Father’s testimony in the work of Jesus but this is familiar language used by the early disciples, for example Peter on the Day of Pentecost: “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22) Again the Easy to Read version says it most simply:My fellow Israelites, listen to these words: Jesus from Nazareth was a very special man. God clearly showed this to you. He proved it by the miracles, wonders, and miraculous signs he did through Jesus. You all saw these things, so you know this is true.”  ‘A very special man’ accurately records it but understates it. ‘Proved it’ – the language of evidence.

Now remember this is all about ‘the salvation’ conveyed through these witnesses. Out salvation is the key end issue here. How can we believe what we are told? Because Jesus said it, his disciples confirmed it and God the Father backed it up by signs and wonders and gifts of the Spirit manifested through the Son and then through the disciples and the early church and the church down through the centuries. We can believe because the evidence is so strong. More than that, we must believe otherwise we will fall away and that’s what the writer to the Hebrews wants to avoid.  Thus the warning not to drift away comes with a reminder that we have so much supporting evidence as to the truth about Jesus and our salvation, that no one really has any excuse if they reject these things.

15. The Identity of Jesus

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   15. The Identity of Jesus

John 8:13,14    The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going.

There are, I conclude, two major overriding themes that come through in John that we have seen so far. We have focused on one – the transforming power of Jesus – but have not really covered the other, which in some ways is more important – the identity of Jesus. We did comment briefly in an earlier study about the number of times the word ‘testify’ comes up in John. It is a word used about giving evidence about a person, to identify them and what they have done, a word used in connection with court cases where there is serious work being done to establish the truth.

Jesus has just said, in the temple precincts, I am the light of the world.” (Jn 8:12) This upsets the contentious Pharisees who basically say, you can’t be a witness in your own defence, your testimony is not valid. The Law required two witnesses (Deut 17:6) and of course Jesus knew this. Earlier he had said, “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.” (Jn 5:31) That’s all right, he went on to say, “There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid,“ (Jn 5:32) and then he refers to John the Baptist: “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth.” (5:33)

But he doesn’t rely on that (v.34,35)  and goes on, “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me.” (Jn 5:36,37) i.e. his works testify to who he is and indeed back at his baptism the voice of the Father had also testified to who he was (Mt 3:17)

Now to back that up, as the conversation in chapter 8 proceeds, Jesus declares, “In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” (8:17,18) Again he makes it very clear that God is his witness.

A little later in the conversation they demand, “Who are you?” (v.25) and Jesus replies, “Just what I have been claiming all along,” and adds “But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.” (v.26) and then John adds, “They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father.” (v.27) Jesus adds, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” (v.28,29)

This is one of those three occasions that Jesus refers to himself being lifted up (see Jn 3:14, 8:28 and 12:32,34) He is, I believe, also ‘lifted up’ three times – to death on the Cross, in the resurrection, and in the ascension.  All three have something vital to say about him – the Cross is where our sins were carried, his resurrection affirms who he is, and his ascension is the way to him being seated at the Father’s right hand where he now reigns. These three testify to who he is.

Peter, preaching under the anointing of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, declared, “listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22) In other words the miraculous signs (the miracles) that the Father enabled him to perform accredit who Jesus is. When he was preaching to the gentiles in the house of Cornelius he preached, “You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached– how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.” (Acts 10:37-39) It was the same message – the works of God testify to who Jesus is.

The word ‘testify’ is found 12 times in John’s Gospel and 3 times in his first letter. John is a witness and wants to shout it from the rooftops. In his final teaching to the apostles before going to the Cross, Jesus taught them, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (Jn 15:26,27) Today there are three witnesses to Jesus, the Son of God – the Holy Spirit, the Bible and Christians. All we have to do is point people back to the Gospels and say, “This is the one who calls you to follow him and allow him to be Lord of your life.” The records are quite clear and show very clearly just who Jesus is.

61. God’s Testimony

Meditations in 1 John : 61 : God’s Testimony

1 John  5:9,10    We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.

Perhaps we take the word ‘testimony’ for granted. It appears mostly in respect of Court cases and witnesses share their testimony. They share what they have seen and heard. That is why the beginning of John’s letter is so powerful, because it is a testimony to what John and the other apostles had seen and heard. It is also why the previously blind man’s testimony in John 9 is so powerful because he simply tells what has happened – “I was blind but now I can see.”

When John says “We accept man’s testimony,” he is not seeking to define something but is making a generalisation. Generally we accept what someone says when they were a witness. It’s worth noting in passing that often a defence counsel may try to discredit a witness and that’s what crusading atheists do with Christians, just like the Pharisees did with that man in John 9 we referred to who had been blind from birth. It’s not possible, was basically what they said, such things don’t happen. It’s what the crusading atheists say about miracles – they can’t happen! Well they can because there IS a God.

Now the point John is making in these verses is that we can believe about Jesus because of what God Himself has said. Human testimony is good, is what he implies, but God’s testimony is better – because He is God and a) He knows and b) He only conveys truth. God knows everything and He knows all about Jesus and so if He says, You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mk 1:11) He means it – this IS my Son.

Then John says something very significant: “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.”  God has testified that Jesus is His Son, and anyone who has come to that belief, believes what God has testified, because that’s where this belief comes from, from God,  which is why he goes on to declare, “Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.  If you say that Jesus isn’t God’s Son then you deny what God has said. Of course skeptics then say, “Well, I don’t believe God spoke” at which point they are denying the testimony of those who heard His voice and so the skeptic then says, “I believe their testimony is wrong” and has to then go on finding reasons to discredit those witnesses, but ultimately in such cases, such people are denying because of their starting place: it is inconvenient for me to believe.

I have come across that in many forms over the years: “I like my lifestyle and so it is inconvenient to believe in a God who might challenge that,” or “I like being the sole ruler of my life and it is inconvenient to have a God who knows better than me and may point out my failings.”  Of course they never say the second part, the part about being inconvenienced but that is the truth of the matter. So, for many, it is in their interests to discredit the testimony, the testimony of believers, the testimony of the Gospel writers, the testimony of the apostles, the testimony of Jesus Himself and, of course, the testimony of God. It is, for many, a case of not believing, not because it fails intellectually, but simply because it is inconvenient to believe, so they deny from the outset.

But John’s testimony and John’s argument does not let such people get away with it. His letter starts with that amazing testimony – we saw, we felt, we heard – and then continues on with this strong argument. I’ve seen, I’ve heard and so I know about God, is what he is saying. I know that God knows everything and I know that God only speaks truth and so I know that when God says that Jesus is His Son, we can accept that! If you don’t, you’ve got a problem and you need to look inside yourself to see what it is.

Listen to the crusading atheists and so often you will find there was a silly person or a person who simply failed in some aspect of life, that they knew when they were a child, and on the basis of that person’s silly words, or that person’s failing to live up to expectations, that child was hurt and has grown up into an adult who doesn’t judge on intellectual grounds but on the emotional bias they never got to grips with when they were younger.

Yes, it is a question of the veracity of the witnesses. So there were people with feet of clay when you were small who said silly things about faith, or who lived lives that were inconsistent with the Bible, but recognize them for what they were – poor witnesses. Put aside the emotions of those days of childhood and grow up and give fair assessment of the Gospel writers, of the apostles, of Jesus and of God, and maybe, just maybe, you will come to see that they are witnesses who can be replied upon and their testimony is true. But beware and be honest, you may prefer to avoid the truth because you know it will mean life change, an acknowledgement that you got it wrong before, or other changes, and you may not like that!  But be honest about it at least and don’t come up with any silly excuses about this not carrying intellectual integrity – it does!

58. Witness & Sharer

Meditations in 1 Peter : 58: Witness & Sharer

1 Pet 5:1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed

Peter now seems to move on to speak to specific groups within the church at large. The word ‘elder’ here should not be thought of as referring simply to an old man, but in fact to the role of a leader in the church. We note reference to them a number of times in the New Testament, for example, “From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.” (Acts 20:17) to whom he gives the charge, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28,29) Thus we see the designation, ‘elder’ and their role as ‘overseer’ or ‘shepherd’. In fact this is exactly the same as Peter does here in the first two verses of the chapter: To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers.” (1 Pet 5:1,2) We’ll consider the shepherding role of function the next meditation. The role of the elder we thus see is to be a shepherd or overseer of the flock, one who watches over and guards the flock. However, Peter is going to focus on one particular facet of that function as we shall see in a moment.

But note first that Peter describes himself as “a fellow elder”. In this he identifies himself with them. At the beginning of the letter he had written differently: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,” (1 Pet 1:1) establishing his authority. Now, however, he comes as a fellow-servant. He knows what it is like to be a leader in the local church; he knows the burdens and the struggles that go on in this servant role. I maintain that no one who has not been in full-time ministry as an elder of the local church can know the burdens and the pressures. The true local shepherd carries the flock on his heart twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Peter identifies with these men.

But then he gives them a twofold designation: “a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed.” The first part of that sentence, “a witness of Christ’s sufferings” may have two meanings in Peter’s mind. One can’t be sure. The fact that he has been speaking so much about suffering and has already spoken about us sharing in Christ’s sufferings (see 2:21, 4:1,13) may indicate that when he speaks of a witness of Christ’s sufferings, he also means a witness who has been a partaker of those sufferings, i.e. a witness who has not merely watched or known about them, but who has entered into them! But he also may have in mind the fact that leaders are to be upholders of the truths of the Gospel and at the heart of it is the death (suffering) and resurrection of Jesus Christ (see, for example, 1 Pet 1:3-5,10-12,18-23).

The apostle John saw himself as such a witness obviously, when he wrote, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life.” which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.” (1 Jn 1:1-3)  This is all the language of a witness and Peter reminds leaders that this is to be one of our primary roles.

But there is more to the calling of an elder for the second part says, “and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed.” Now does this mean the glory of God that will be revealed at the end of time when He makes all things new or is there something more? I believe there is something more and it is for the present. I suggest that it means, when we fulfil our God-given role as leaders, enter into and are witnesses to the wonder of the Gospel, then we will know the wonder of being part of the ongoing plan of God which will be revealed so that the glory of God is seen on the earth. To quote again one of those verses which has cropped up more than once in these meditations: let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:16). When we allow the Lord to lead us, inspire us and empower us, the things that we find ourselves doing will reveal the Lord and His glory. His goodness and love and grace will be seen in us and in what we do and we will experience something of His glorious presence – today!

The work of the Son is to reveal the Father’s glory. Jesus said, This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (Jn 15:8) and “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (Jn 14:12,13) There it is: the Father is glorified when we produce much fruit by continuing to do what Jesus had been doing. As we do that we share in the glory that is being revealed. It is all His but we experience it. How wonderful!

 

35. The Sent One

Meditations on Jesus in John’s Gospel : 35 : Jesus, the Sent One

Jn 5:36,37    “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me.”

In a court room a testimony is the evidence of a witness to a person’s character and capability. A person who is asked to testify on behalf of another, is someone who knows that other and is able to speak up on their behalf to conform the sort of person they are. The question that is in so many people’s minds is who is Jesus? If the whole world would realize who he is, it would transform the world.  The excuse that so many will use is, nobody told me, yet the truth is that the Bible is the world’s number one best seller and there are millions of copies in non-believers’ homes and the Bible brings us the evidence of Jesus.

John the Gospel writer, particularly, holds nothing back in his effort to convince his readers. For the people there in Jesus’ day one of the clearest witnesses to Jesus was John the Baptist, as we’ve seen in previous meditations. But, says Jesus, there is an even stronger witness who speaks and acts on my behalf, my heavenly Father. We’ve already seen a number of times the relationship between the Father and Son, and the way Jesus responded to the Father’s prompting to do the Father’s will. Here we see that again but with a different emphasis.

You want to know who I am, says Jesus?  Then look at what I’m doing and you’ll realize where I must come from.  Jesus’ words to John the Baptist’s disciples portray him well: Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor (Mt 11:4,5) Similarly in Luke’s Gospel in the synagogue in Capernaum Jesus read out and applied to himself the Isaiah prophecy: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour (Lk 4:18,19).  Later on Jesus was to say, Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (Jn 10,37,38).  Not sure who Jesus is? Look at the things he did, the healings, the raising people from the dead, the delivering people from demons, walking on water, turning water into wine, feeding thousands with a few loaves, all these things speak for themselves.

All these things point to one thing, says Jesus, that I am sent by my Father (i.e. God). Why? Well let the words of Nicodemus, leader, scholar and conservative Jew speak the answer: Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him (Jn 3:2). No it’s more than that Nicodemus; this is the Son of God sent from heaven with a purpose, and with all the power and authority of heaven at his disposal. He’s got a purpose and it is to reveal his Father through the things he does. He’s been sent from heaven to reveal the Father and then die as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Sometimes people feel their life is an accident. That isn’t true and it’s certainly not true of Jesus. He was and is the Son of God who has left his home in heaven, sent by the Father with a purpose decreed before the foundation of the world itself. He is the most purposeful figure in history, this Sent One!

33. Opposition (2)

Meditations in 1 Peter : 33:  Coping with Opposition (2)

1 Pet 2:21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

This is the hard side of the Christian life, the side that most of us in the West prefer not to think about. We will in the next meditation go on to look in detail to how Christ acted but for now we must just focus on the fact that he suffered and we are also called to suffer for the Gospel. Remember Peter has just said about slaves, if you suffer for doing good….” This is not self-inflicted suffering; this is suffering because we are Christians.

Now to get balance we have to note that it isn’t always like that in life and there are also times in the New Testament when the church found favour with the world: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people.” (Acts 2:46,47). Indeed, it should be our purpose to win favour by our good lives, as Paul said a similar thing to the slaves in Colosse: “ Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” (Col 3:22).  Yet the truth also is that there will be times when the world around us will be hostile to us because we are Christians.

Jesus laid out this teaching very clearly to his disciples: “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.” (Lk  21:12-19).

Now there are some crucial points in this. First, note, “This will result in your being witness to them.” i.e. when you are hauled before authorities see this as an opportunity to testify to the Lord. Second, note the Lord’s provision: “I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” Wow, that is positive!

Why will people oppose us? Listen again to Jesus’ teaching at the Last Supper: “I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: `No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name.” (Jn 1519-21). Ultimately all opposition we receive as Christians is because of Christ. The enemy is against him and against us as his representatives.

This teaching goes right back to the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you,” (Mt 5:10-12) yet there it is expanded to remind us that all of God’s servants throughout time have been opposed. But, says Jesus, you will be blessed when you are persecuted and we are to rejoice in such circumstances because (implied) it shows we are part of God’s family, doing God’s will.

The nature of this persecution is made even more clear in John’s Gospel: “So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (Jn 5:16-18) Jesus was ‘working’ on the Sabbath because his Father was working and that upset the religious ideas of some. Then we he associated himself with his Father that upset them even more.

Our call is to do the will of God as the Holy Spirit leads us. Sometimes that will upset people (see Acts 4). When we associate ourselves with our Lord that will sometimes also upset people. We are not to be purposely antagonistic but if our simple declarations spoken gently bring hostility simply because of the content – despite the delivery – then so be it!  That is our calling.  But remember it is a calling that brings the grace of God with it. He will enable and He will look after us. Those are His promises.

28. Silence Foolish Men

Meditations in 1 Peter : 28:  How to Silence Foolish Men

1 Pet 2:15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.

The Church has not done a good job in following this verse in latter centuries and the result has been a surge for the last couple of hundred of years of negative comments from atheists. Now let’s be quite clear, the Scriptural assessment is that The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psa 14:1, 53:1). That is the atheist! The apostle Paul weighed in, speaking about, “men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Rom 1:18-20)  Anyone who has eyes to see should see God’s greatness is the Scriptural assessment and if they don’t they condemn themselves.

Now having said that, the Scriptural assessment is that the Church also should be a witness to God. Throughout the Old Testament the idea of Israel being a light to the rest of the world comes up again and again. Now it is the turn of the Church to reveal God. Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane prayed, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn 17:20-23). Our unity and experience of God should let the world know the reality of the Father and the Son. How far we have fallen short!

On an individual level, Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16). It is said that in the first few centuries of the life of the early Church, the Christians were often known as key members of the local community who helped hold it together and bring goodness to society. Without doubt the Church has taken the Gospel to the world, and on occasion there have been bursts of light that have revealed God’s goodness through the Church, but how often today do the local community look begrudgingly to the Church as the bringer of goodness to society?

Look, says Peter, this is God’s plan, that you silence the doubters and the critics, and you reveal God’s goodness “by doing good.” Yes, individuals have done good and have started charities that bless the world, but the Church as a whole has not been good at doing that; we have been more concerned at running our spiritual organizations which are often inwards looking and self-concerned.  Now this should not be seen as a condemnatory and judgmental comment, but more a challenge to say that we have much to do to regain the ground that has been lost. It is also difficult in the modern world because Governments tend to take over the welfare aspects of society and there are also many other people who work for good in society.

So how does the Church go about it?  Obviously, first of all, at an individual level, we simply seek to be loving, caring and compassionate individuals who reach out and touch the people we encounter and bless them with our servant-hearted attitude that seeks the welfare of others instead of putting self first. Corporately we need to face the truth of Scripture that calls us to be this sort of people, outward looking, seeking to bless others with God’s love as well as sharing the Good News in words only.

The Good News is Jesus incarnate. He became flesh to come and live among us and the Gospel record is that he spent much of his time using the power of God to touch people physically and being healing to their lives. If we are to be his body we need to have an ear open to God in the same way Jesus did, to know what he should be doing and where he should be going, and seek the power of God to bring blessing and change wherever the opportunity arises.

While we are thinking of good works, we need to remember that verse which crops up again and again in these meditations: “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) God alone knows best how we operate and what gifts He has given us, and so He is the one who has a plan for us to follow. All we have to do is find out what it is for us locally and individually. When He directs the ‘good works’, we will find a new level of fruitfulness and impact within our society, and then God will truly be honoured and glorified. May it be so!

48. My Redeemer

Meditations in Job : 48.  My Redeemer Lives

Job 19:25 I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.

One thing I always think stands up for the integrity of Scripture is the willingness of the translators to acknowledge where there are ambiguous meanings to words used, and these appear in the footnotes of your Bible (there are also relatively few of them). I mention this because in the remaining seven verses of chapter 19 there are no less than 7 footnotes, and so we will take each of them into account. Having moved from speaking about his three friends, the Lord, and his own situation, he now turns to an “if only” section. Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll,” (v.23) which might be read as “If only my words were recorded…” Why does he want his words recorded? He doesn’t actually say but we may infer so that they can be used even after his death to justify him. How are they to be recorded? “that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever!” (v.24) The footnote suggests “iron and lead” as a possibility. Whichever it is we have list of various ways that writing might have been recorded in those days.

Then comes this declaration that is perhaps the best known part of Job: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.” (v.25). We have two footnotes in this section: ‘’redeemer’ may mean ‘defender’, and ‘upon the earth’ may mean ‘upon my grave’. In a previous study we saw Job refer to, my witness …. my advocate …. My intercessor ….. my friend” (16:19,20). Now again Job senses revelation of truth, truth that even today evades many.  It is that, far from God being an enemy in heaven, there is One there who will defend him, one who will speak up for him and justify him.  The objective of heaven is not to condemn and destroy him, but to justify and save him!

The incredible truth is that heaven works on our behalf, not against us.  This is an incredible change from those human-inspired world religions that work to get God on their side by their efforts.  No, the truth is that God is already on our side; all we have to do is believe it!  Job senses that his redeemer or defender from heaven will come to the earth, maybe even to stand on his grave, or the grave prepared for him, to speak up for him.  The picture of his defender coming and standing on his grave, is one of closest encounter.  Did he, perhaps, sense that this Coming One would come and declare not only his justification but also his resurrection?  Is it not a similar picture to Jesus coming to Lazarus’s tomb (Jn 11) and calling him out to new life

But then he continues, “And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes–I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (v.26,27). The footnote alternatives are very unclear here but seem to suggest “after I awake, though this body has been destroyed” indicating a sure belief in a life after death.  This is a staggering declaration of faith, that even though he dies, he will live on and will see his Redeemer in heaven (implied).  Surely this must be the peak of revelation that Job has, that although he is suffering, yet his suffering will come to an end and he will depart to be with his Redeemer – NOT separated from Him. Hallelujah!

Finally he turns back on his accusers: “If you say, `How we will hound him, since the root of the trouble lies in him,(or ‘me’ according to the footnote) (v.28) i.e. if you continue to keep on at me, looking for a fault in me, you need to watch out: “you should fear the sword yourselves; for wrath will bring punishment by the sword, and then you will know that there is judgment.” (v.29)  If you point a finger at me, you’d better watch out because you will be accountable to heaven as well. if you say I am being punished for my failures, you should worry yourselves lest your own failures are picked up by heaven and God’s anger for them comes down on you too!  It is a short sharp warning about accountability and not feeling too smug about our own position. As Christians we realise that none of us can stand before God unscathed; that is why Jesus died on the cross for every one of us, because we all need his salvation.  Let’s remember that, especially when we are faced by those who have clearly failed!  We have no grounds to point fingers!  Don’t do it!

43. An Advocate

Meditations in Job : 43.  I have an Advocate

Job 16:19-21 Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend.

I have commented before in this series, of a couple I knew who lived good, faithful, Christian lives and then went into a time of complete darkness. It did seem that their lives were in utter darkness, but it was only when they were in that utter darkness that they realised that they were not alone and there was One with them there in it. They were not alone. Suddenly they had a revelation that they had not had before. It is a truth that sometimes it is only when we go into the depths of suffering that we seem to be able to receive the most wonderful of all revelation.

Now before I carry on it is necessary to combat the snide remarks of atheists who, at this point, seek to leap in and twist what is being said. “Oh,” they say, “so you are saying it is a good thing to be pushed by God into suffering?” I’ve heard it said. First of all it is probably not God who has got them into the place of suffering  (there is only one Job in the Bible) and, second, God weeps with us in such situations (see Jesus at Lazarus’s tomb – Jn 11). Third, we are talking about what can come out of a bad situation because we have quoted a number of times that wonderful truth from Rom 8:28: we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” God will be working in whatever bad situation we find ourselves in, to bring good out of it for us. So, remember what we have been saying, that in the dark places, we often find revelation. Now let’s go back to Job.

What is his situation? “I have sewed sackcloth over my skin and buried my brow in the dust.” (v.15) This is a man in the depths of mourning. For them, as we’ve noted before, to put on sackcloth and putting aside fine clothes, and then putting ashes on your head to disfigure you, was the way that they outwardly expressed their mourning. But this wasn’t only how he was dressed: “My face is red with weeping, deep shadows ring my eyes.” (v.16) When you are in deep mourning, you weep and your face gets red and your eyes red and dark shadows appear below your eyes. However, as he thinks on his state, he is still confused: “yet my hands have been free of violence and my prayer is pure.” (v.17) In other words, why is this happening? I can’t understand it; I haven’t done anything to warrant this. He continues, “O earth, do not cover my blood; may my cry never be laid to rest!” (v.18) i.e. don’t let me be buried, don’t let my corpse be covered, don’t let my present cry be suppressed!

That is where he has come to. It’s a cry of confusion and frustration in the pain and anguish of his suffering. It’s a time of an all-time low in his life, and then suddenly he comes out with something that is quite remarkable, this man who, so far, has felt totally alone, condemned by God: “Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high.” (v .19) What?  He’s not alone? He senses someone in heaven who is on his side? What is this?  If this is, as some suppose, one of the oldest books of the Bible, then this must be one of the earliest glimpses of one who would come on our behalf, one who would speak up for us from heaven. Why does he speak up? Because he speaks out the love of the godhead for the people of the earth. The truth is that God is not against the people of the earth; He is for them. He wants them to know His love, but so often they are too taken up in their own sin to receive it. So far all Job is saying is that there is One in heaven who looks down and sees the truth and speaks up on his behalf. Now see what he goes on to say: “My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God.” (v.20). This one who speaks out for him is a friend, not an enemy and he is moved by Job’s tears to God. Isn’t that exactly how Jesus responded at Lazarus’s tomb when Mary came out to him: When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” (Jn 11:33) He did not stand aloof but was moved to tears and to action. That is what compassion is all about. Jesus was described as a friend of sinners (e.g. Mt 11:19)

Job further describes this ‘friend’: on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend.” (v.21). Moses pleaded with God on behalf of Israel (Ex 32:11-13). Similarly Jesus calls us friends (Jn 15:14,15) and he speaks up on our behalf when we sin (1 Jn 2:1). That is the incredible wonder that Job stumbles across in his darkness. He has a friend in heaven, one who is for him, (Rom 8:31) not against him, but then the reality of his situation seems to close in on him again: “Only a few years will pass before I go on the journey of no return.” (v.22) Everything about his situation seems to suggest that his time is strictly limited on the earth. Perhaps he is reflecting that he will soon see his ‘friend’; we’ll need to see it in the context of the verses of the next chapter.

If you are in a place of great darkness, know that you are not alone; there is One who is there with you, one who is your friend, who is there for you, who will call out in heaven on your behalf. Reach out in the darkness and sense His presence, sense His love. It IS there despite everything else.